Lessons Learned - The Implementation Stage of Microcredentials
Published by: Lindsey Downs | 9/22/2022
Welcome to the continuation of the WCET + WCET Steering work group series focused on microcredential initiatives. This series explores microcredential adoption, implementation, and evaluation. Previously, the series has reviewed the importance of understanding the strategic goals of microcredential projects, the value that clarity of terms plays in an emergent area, and considered the inception of a microcredential project.
With today’s post, our steering committee work group discusses the implementation stage of a microcredentialling program. The authors call upon several experts in the field to share lessons learned from their experiences implementing microcredential programming at their institution.
Thank you to those interviewed and the WCET Steering Committee working group for this outstanding series!
Enjoy the read,
Lindsey Downs, WCET
Launching or growing a mircocredential program requires coordination and thoughtful planning. Luckily there are others who have traveled this path before you and the microcredential community is one that is happy to share their lessons with others.
Key aspects of a successful implementation include:
To better highlight the implementation phase of a microcredential program, we drew upon the expertise of four talented and engaged members of the WCET community to share their experience and wisdom.
Please note, some responses have been edited for space and clarity.
We want to be an agent of change for students’ social and economic mobility.
Microcredentialing allows students to access the key skills and content knowledge to enter into their field faster, at a higher earning potential, and with the option of returning to stack their credentials further to advance intheir respective roles.
We brought micro-credentials to campus in 2012 as a way to help validate and verify the learning that takes place within our Continuing Education courses.
We were hearing far too often that our earners as well as our/their employers wanted something more than just an “S” or a “U” on a transcript. Building out credentials that required some sort of assessment helped the badge consumers verify that knowledge transfer took place.
During the redevelopment of our MBA program content, we determined industry recognized credentials are a high-value proposition to reinforce program content and for the career development of learners. We selected a program partner, Wiley, to produce and deliver these credentials that had a business partnership with Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).
We asked for credentials to cover technical, managerial and leadership skills. Two graded credentials are included in every course and an option for about 20 other valuable credentials. The credentials skills such as MS Excel, PowerBI, Coaching and Mentoring, Critical Thinking, Project Management and more The reasonable cost of the credentials ($30.00 each) is bundled with student learning resources for every course. The credentials are free to all MBA faculty members.
The University at Buffalo (UB) is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, which released a policy framework for microcredentials back in 2018.
This framework inspired us to develop a pilot, as we saw the potential for microcredentials to help students meet their individual academic and professional goals.
Aurora: We are in the midst of establishing our microcredentials. It has taken collaboration, research, communication, and key partnerships outside of the institution to make the progress we have. We are hoping to launch many of our key microcredentials in the Spring of 2023.
Madison College: For us, I think it was the opportunity to try different things knowing that if they did not work, we could find a way to back out, adjust, and pivot if needed. In addition to that, it was and continues to be necessary to have someone or a group of people responsible for the oversight of the program. Once we started to have some initial success in non-credit, we were able to gradually expand into degree programming, customized employer training, and other areas of our college. As that showed more success our administration fully bought in and authorized the creation of our Digital Credentials Institute.
SNHU: Important steps include ease of access for students to the credential within the learning management software (LMS). Additionally, we related the learning within the course content to the course competencies and program outcomes. Finally, we spent time and resources teaching and encouraging students to display their badges in their social media content to promote personal branding.
Buffalo: We instated a centralized office (Office of Microcredentials) and spent almost a full year planning and developing processes before launching our first microcredentials. Developing a communication plan early on allowed us to build awareness of microcredentials and clarity around their purpose and benefits to all stakeholders.
A centralized office has been critical to ensuring our efforts are well-coordinated, as microcredential development and implementation requires collaboration across many offices and units (e.g., academic departments, registrar). A centralized office has also allowed us to instate a faculty governance process that assures our microcredentials meet quality standards, and appropriately fit into, or complement, existing programs.
Aurora: Navigating the many different layers of varying processes is not necessarily a hindrance, but an opportunity to be intentional with every step. And, it takes time to navigate those processes, which can slow progress but ultimately lead to better outcomes.
Madison College: Probably our biggest hindrance was just acceptance that micro-credentials/digital badges were a real thing, not just a novelty, and could have real value in the market. It took some time to get faculty buy-in, but once some early adopters moved forward it has literally exploded on our campuses.
SNHU: The biggest hindrance was finding a business partner who understood our vision and could deliver a robust bundle of products to support each course in the program. We wanted one partner to work on the design that had the right textbooks, credentials, videos, podcasts, animated videos, and research that matched our vision and the learners’ needs. We spent several months meeting with different professional teams. While all the learning resource vendors had high quality products, we chose Wiley and AICPA because they were able to meet all needs. A second hindrance was designing the links within the LMS that were easy and seamless for students. We did not want students to “work” at getting to the content. The work is in learning and achieving the credentials and not maneuvering through multiple gates to access the tool.
Aurora: State data informing the industries of focus, workforce data, industry advisory boards, finding resources, and partnerships through organizations like The Educational Design Lab, as well as with colleagues in the respective work groups.
Madison College: There were very few organizations especially in higher ed that were utilizing digital badges when we first started (2012). In those early years, we spent a lot of time building the plane while flying…but one of the biggest influences we had would be the IBM program.
Buffalo: The SUNY microcredential policy framework has been a great resource for UB, and I encourage anyone implementing microcredentials in higher education to consider adopting the guiding principles of the framework.
I am fortunate to have a community of like-minded practitioners across the state who also oversee microcredential programs. For me, community is a critical resource as it provides an opportunity to share practices, explore new ideas, and learn in a manner that is informal and risk-free.
The professional organization UPCEA is an excellent resource for HED professionals who work with alternative credentials in any capacity. Over the years I have had the privilege to work with UPCEA in a variety of capacities, including as a contributor to the Hallmarks of Excellence in Credential Innovation, which is essential reading for anyone developing a microcredential strategy or managing the procedural aspects thereof.
Madison College: Yes, but it definitely did not happen overnight. We had to prove that these credentials were something people (earners/employers, etc.…) wanted. In addition to that, we needed a plan/policy for how they would be utilized, what the value of them would be, the graphic images, all of the pieces that make the program successful and scalable.
Currently, one of the most integrated processes utilizing digital badges are our Articulation badges, similar to Credit for Prior Learning, which flows through our Admissions office. These badges have played a key role in helping us build and maintain community-based organization partnerships while also providing pathways into education.
SNHU: As a result of the learning and success of implementing credentials in the MBA, we were able to implement similar tools in our Accounting and Human Resources programs. These learners will now have additional tools to enhance their career potential and professional development.
Buffalo: We have been able to effectively integrate microcredentials into UB’s systems and processes. We are fortunate to have the support of university leadership, particularly our Vice Provost for Academic Affairs (VPAA), who has supported and championed microcredentials since we began this initiative. Undoubtedly, when adding a new type of credential to an institution’s portfolio, more work will ensue. This includes new procedures for administrative offices, and added responsibility for faculty who develop microcredentials and support students in earning them. This would be much more difficult, if not impossible, without trust in, and respect for, the leadership behind these efforts.
Aurora: Allow for the time it takes to do this work well. Partner across positions within and external from the organization. Seek significant industry input, and make it an iterative process.
SNHU: One of the tenants of Total Quality Management (TQM) is developing business partnerships with outside firms who understand your own vision and mission. Your success is their success. Having one vendor to manage your “supply chain” of credentialing is both a benefit and a challenge. A benefit is having a trustworthy partnership. A challenge is getting all the needed name brand products from one source. We were able to maximize the benefit and overcome the challenges through hard work and on-going transparent communication with Wiley and AICPA.
Buffalo: Use your existing systems (e.g., SIS, LMS) and processes (e.g., curricular review) for developing and implementing microcredentials. This will improve efficiency and help internal stakeholders understand that microcredentials are a component of your institution’s portfolio, and not just a fad or inferior to other types of credentials.
In summary, the implementation stage is where your institution can start to really impact your community, take your time to identify what is working and what can be improved as you move forward.
We would like to thank the following individuals who generously helped with this blog: